Electrolysis is a hair removal process that uses a tiny probe to apply an electrical current at the base of the hair.

The term electrolysis refers to three types of treatment, called modalities.

  1. Galvanic is the original method that uses a direct electrical current. Direct current is the type of electrical current that a battery supplies. A probe is inserted into the follicle with the tip of the probe beside the base of the hair. When a direct current is applied to the base of the hair, the current stimulates a chemical reaction between the water and the salt in the hair follicle to create sodium hydroxide (lye). The galvanic modality is a chemical process.
  2. In the 1940’s, a new type of treatment was developed that uses an alternating electrical current. This modality is called thermolysis. Alternating electrical current is the type of electricity we use in our houses within the USA. It’s called alternating because the positive and negative poles switch back and forth. The speed at which they do this is called the frequency. When an alternating electrical current is applied via a probe to the base of the hair, molecules vibrate against each other generating a burst of heat. Modern epilators operate at very high frequencies and can treat a hair follicle in a few thousandths of a second using thermolysis. The thermolysis modality is a heat process.
  3. The third modality is called blend. It is called blend because it combines both galvanic and thermolysis modalities. Both the galvanic and thermolysis modalities are applied to the base of the hair.

Hair type usually determines which type is of modality is used. Pure galvanic is the least used modality, and thermolysis is the most used.

With electrolysis, a probe is inserted into the follicle beside the base of the hair. An electrical current is then applied, destroying the dermal papilla and germ cells. Each follicle is treated. Electrolysis can treat all types and colors of hair and skin. Electrolysis great for detailed work, such as shaping eyebrows or beard lines. With electrolysis, the treatment is below the skin surface. Laser hair removal uses a medical laser to apply heat to the surface of the skin and that heat flows down the follicle. Laser can treat large areas quickly. Hair color and skin type can impact the effectiveness of treatment. Typically, laser hair removal is not very effective on blonde, red, white, light brown or gray hair. Many people use both types of hair removal. Depending on hair and skin types, a person may begin with laser hair removal and then finish up with electrolysis. A person with gray hair will need electrolysis.

Effective electrolysis treatment destroys the dermal papilla, the source of nutrition of a hair, and the germ cells, which are responsible for regrowth.  If the hair cannot get nutrition, it cannot grow.

The base of the hair is commonly called the root, but electrologists often call it the base or matrix.  It is slightly concave at the bottom and sits on top of a group of cells called the dermal papilla.  If the dermal papilla and germ cells are destroyed, a hair cannot grow.  The electrologist slides a probe down to the base of the hair, applies an electrical current, and destroys the dermal papilla and germ cells over multiple treatments. 

Hair that is effectively treated does not grow back. If there are any live germ cells left behind, the hair may regrow, but it will be much weaker / finer. These hairs are very easy to treat / kill if a strict schedule is maintained. Also, other hair follicles in the area may produce hair. This may be because vellus hair (peach fuzz) transitions to adult hair; or it may be that neighboring hair is coming out of its resting, or dormant, stage.  Not all hair follicles always express a hair. 

When we are young most of the hair on our bodies is the light peach fuzz kind of hair.  That is called vellus hair.  As children, the only dark, adult-type hair we have is on our scalps, eyebrows and eyelashes.  This hair is sometimes called native hair.

When we hit puberty and hormones start circulating through our bodies, one hormone, testosterone, can cause some of the vellus hair to convert to the adult type of hair, which is called terminal hair.  It is called terminal because it has reached its final, or terminal, stage of development.  As teenagers, we witness this change in our bodies as we develop terminal hair in our underarms, on our legs, our faces, and other areas.

But, only the vellus hair most sensitive to the testosterone converts during our teens.  Fortunately, a relatively small percentage of the vellus hair transitions to terminal hair. As we age, however, vellus hair continues transitioning to terminal hair because of the constant, long-term exposure to the hormone.  Therefore, men develop hair on their ears as they grow older.  Sometimes women may develop hair on their faces.

Hair, whether native or terminal, goes through a four-stage process.  During the actively growing stage, we see the hair.  But during the resting, or dormant, stage, the follicle may not have a hair.

The four stages of hair growth are anagen, catagen, telogen and exogen. 

The anagen stage is the actively growing stage when the hair follicle is the deepest. The hair is resting on the dermal papilla. It is during this stage that a hair can be effectively treated, and the dermal papilla destroyed. 

Eventually the hair follicle enters a transition stage called the catagen stage.  In this stage, the hair may continue to grow as it uses up stored resources in the base, but the base is detaching from the dermal papilla and the nutrition source is being removed. 

Finally, the hair follicle enters the resting stage known as the telogen stage. Many hairs will be visible but others will have already been shed. How long the hair follicle remains in the telogen stage varies with different areas of the body.  

Eventually, the follicle leaves the telogen stage    and enters the exogen stage when the old hair is pushed out as the new hair grows in.

About 70% to 80% of the hair follicles on your scalp are in the anagen stage, actively growing.  20% to 30% are in the catagen or telogen stages. But your eyebrows?  Only 15% to 20%of the follicles are actively growing hair in the anagen stage. 80% to 85% are resting. These ratios vary with different areas of the body.

Regardless of which electrolysis modality is being used, the client will feel a sensation.   Depending on the area being treated, the sensation is less than many other methods of hair removal, such as tweezing, waxing or laser. Clients may even fall asleep during treatment.

Several factors determine treatment sensitivity: 

  1. Pain tolerance: It varies from person to person. 
  2. Treatment area location: Upper lips and toes are generally more sensitive than shoulders and chins. If a hair follicle is located near a nerve, there will be more sensation.
  3. Type of electrolysis modality used: Galvanic or blend is slower but very effective. Thermolysis cause less sensitivity.
  4. Has the client consumed alcohol or caffeine recently? Alcohol is dehydrating and lower moisture levels in the skin make the treatment more sensitive. Caffeine wakes up the nerve endings making the treatment more sensitive.
  5. Menstrual periods: Treatment is generally more sensitive during this time.
  6. Topical anesthetics: can temporarily reduce the sensation of treatment.  There are now over-the-counter medications that have 5% lidocaine.  Stronger anesthetic creams are available by prescription. These creams are typically applied 45 to 60 minutes before treatment. It is important to read the directions and use care with these creams.  For example, lidocaine can affect the heart if too much is applied.
  7. If you are tense or stressed: you will probably experience more pain sensation. It helps to be relaxed prior to treatment. Lack of sleep may also be a contributor.
  8. Endorphins: By the third or fourth visit, clients seem to develop a greater tolerance to the treatment, probably due to the body’s production of endorphins.  Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers. Also, when working on the same area for a while the nerves get tired of sending pain signals to the brain, so the treatment is more tolerable. This is observed when taking a hot bath…at first the water is scalding but five minutes later you are adding more hot water.

Electrolysis breaks down some of the cells at the base of the hair, including the dermal papilla.  When the cell walls are destroyed, fluid is released under the skin.  This is called edema, and it causes a small bump on the surface of the skin, much like a mosquito bite.  There is also some redness. These effects will disappear.

A procedure called cataphoresis can help to relieve the redness by neutralizing the Ph and constricting the blood vessels. Ice can be applied after to continue constricting the blood vessels which helps the skin by reducing swelling and alleviating the histamine reaction.

Since the electrolysis treatment is kept below the surface of the skin, there should be no long- term effects of treatment. Please seek qualified electrologists to perform your treatment. Skin may be damaged if electrologists are inexperienced or not trained properly. 

Electrolysis can benefit everyone…. all genders, skin types, hair colors and ages.

Electrolysis can be performed on hair on all areas of the body with two exceptions.  Electrolysis cannot be performed inside the nose or inside the ear canal.  That is because those areas have mucus membranes that might be damaged by treatment. That said, the edge of the nose and just inside the ears can be treated by electrolysis.

This is a difficult question to answer because everybody is different.  The number of treatments required determines the cost.  Some of the factors affecting the amount of time it will take to clear an area include:

  1. Some people want total clearance of all the hair, whereas other people only want the thicker, darker hair removed.
  2. One client may have 15 hair follicles per square inch that need treatment, while another has 50 per square inch.   
  3. A client’s pain tolerance affects the types of treatment that may be used.
  4. Treatment progresses faster in some areas of the body than others because of the depth of the hair follicles.
  5. Conditions that cause hormone imbalances such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) cause the hair to grow more and will prolong treatment. 
  6. Testosterone treatments to increase libido and energy increase hair growth and will continue to do so if the testosterone continues to be taken.
  7. Medications such as birth control pills (often have more estrogen) and androgen blockers such as Spironolactone and Finasteride (help to block the androgens from activating the hair) can help to shorten the treatment time. However, once these medications are discontinued, the hair may grow again.

The key to minimizing treatment time and cost is to maintain a strict schedule, especially, in the beginning when you have more hair cycling. With continued treatment, your cycles will slow down as will your appointments until you only need to come in to treat the occasional hair as your hormones change.

There are charts that list estimated treatment times for various areas of the body. This is only a estimate and varies from person to person depending on their genetics, hormones, medications, hair density, etc.

The two primary types of training are electrolysis schools and master/apprentice training.  If a person attends an electrolysis school and completes training, that person is then able to take a certification examination. Different schools offer curriculums of varying lengths of time. There is also at least one Internet/online school offering electrolysis training.

If a person pursues an apprenticeship program, that person will work with a certified electrologist and must meet the study/training requirements of the organizations that offer certification examinations. Curriculum requirements are stringent, specifying study materials, length of training time, etc.  Once a person meets those requirements, he/she may apply to take the certification exam.

Performing effective electrolysis is more difficult than one might think. Regardless of which training method a person chooses, that person must be prepared to study hard and practice diligently. 

For more information, please check out this website:

www.electrology.com: American Electrology Association (Electrolysis only)

The best way is to get a referral from someone who is pleased with his/her electrologist or to schedule a consultation with an electrologist.

When you go to a consultation, be prepared to both listen and ask questions. Here are some of the topics covered during a consultation:

  1. An explanation of what electrolysis is and how it works.  It is important that a client understand the process.
  2. An explanation of what a person may feel during treatment, including a discussion of topical skin anesthetics. 
  3. Review possible aftereffects of treatment and post treatment care.
  4. Explain office sanitation practices. Sterilization and sanitation are very important.  For example, current standards require the use of pre-sterilized, single use, disposable probes.
  5. An electrologist may perform a sample treatment to let the client experience treatment and to allow the electrologist to begin determining the correct treatment settings.  
Skip to content